port vs. stern

Boating Terms: Port vs. Stern

If you don’t know the difference between port vs. stern, this article is for you. Understanding basic boating terminology makes it easier to comprehend documents and converse with other boat owners, especially if you are new to boating and the boating community. When you deal with boating paperwork, it also pays to know what terms mean so that you can fill out documents correctly, which saves time and money on fees. Here’s what you need to know about the port and the stern. 

Port and Stern Definitions

Let’s start with the simple definitions for port and stern. This way you have an understanding of what they mean before we get more information about each of them. 

Each of these terms is considered nautical and has their origins in maritime terminology that has been used for centuries. You will often see both words used on boat-related documents and publications, so it makes sense to know where each is located on a boat. 

Origins of the Words

As you read above, both port and stern are words that have been used for quite a long time. Port came about in response to the practice of docking on the left side when entering a port, which made it easier for right-handers to unload cargo from the ship. Port comes from the Latin word for “harbor” or “haven.” 

Stern is derived from an Old English word – styrene. It translates to “rear” or “hind part.” The stern is where you will find the boat’s rudder, which helps steer the vessel. 

Why the Confusion?

The port and stern of a boat are obviously two completely different parts of the vessel and are located in different areas of it. So why is it so common to get the two mixed up? Many people confuse the port with starboard because they aren’t facing the front of the boat. If you’re turned around, you may mistake the port for the wrong side. In some cases, being on a boat is loud and can make it hard to hear which term a sailor or passenger is referring to. Sometimes, it’s just hard to remember which is which. 

How to Keep Them Straight

So how do you make sure you are using the correct term at the correct time? Many experts recommend visualization. Imagine that you are facing the front of the boat. This will help you determine which is the port side, as well as which direction the stern is. You might also remember that “port” and “left” have the same number of letters so you remember which side it is located on. On most boats, there is a red navigational light on the port side so you can look for that, if you are still unsure. 

port vs. stern

Contact the US Vessel Documentation Center today for all of your boat-related questions, including any having to do with port vs. stern. We are here to assist you with many aspects of being a boat owner, so don’t wait.